Vertebral Body

The vertebral body is the largest vertebral part.
The vertebral body is the largest vertebral part. (c) Anne Asher 2006 licensed to

What is the Vertebral Body?

The vertebral body is the biggest vertebral part. It is the anterior portion of the vertebra, meaning it faces into the body, rather than outward.

The vertebral body is generally shaped like a short cylinder. This cylindrical shape is modified depending upon where in the spine it is located, i.e. cervical, thoracic or lumbar. (The same is also true of the other parts of the vertebra; for example, the spinous processes on the back of cervical vertebrae are more elongated than those of the lumbar spine.) The bodies of the lumbar vertebrae are thicker and stronger than thoracic and cervical vertebrae.

The vertebral bodies of the spine stack up on one another to create the vertebral column. The vertebral bodies help provide important support for sitting, standing, walking and other movements. Between the vertebral bodies are the intervertebral disks, providing cushioning and shock absorption.

The vertebral bodies also provide (along with other parts of the vertebra) the boundaries for the spaces through which the spinal cord travels, as well as branching nerves that exit the spine on their way to all parts of the body.

Vertebral Compression Fractures

The vertebral body is the site of compression fractures, which are injuries in which the vertebra cracks or collapses. Also called a spinal fracture, compression fractures occur when the bone cannot support the load of the spine.  Most of the time a compression fracture results from osteoporosis, because this condition weakens bones.  Similarly, compression fractures may be due to other diseases that compromise bone, such as cancer or infection.

About one and a half million vertebral compression fractures are sustained every year in the United States.  This injury is very common in elderly people, especially in postmenopausal women.  Alexandru and So in their 2012 Fall article in Kaiser Permanente’s journal entitled,  “Evaluation and Management of Vertebral Compression Fractures,” about 25% of all postmenopausal women experience a spinal fracture some time during their life.

 Vertebral compression fractures can occur in one or more spinal bones.

The good news is that vertebral compression fractures don’t usually require a stay in the hospital.  That said, the bad news is that this injury can change your life, making you less mobile, more disabled and giving you severe back pain for a long period of time.

Learn more about what to expect after a spinal fracture:  What will your quality of life be like after vertebral compression fracture?

Symptoms of a spinal compression fracture include severe, acute back pain that gets better when you rest.  The area near the injury may be tender to the touch, as well.  While it’s rare, symptoms can also include radiating nerve pain that goes down one arm or leg. You might also experience pain when you twist or bend your spine.

Compression fractures often result in a loss of vertebral height.  This is generally because as the bone collapses, the vertebral body becomes more wedge shaped.  (The bony ring that is attached to the vertebral body remains largely unphased by the compression fracture.) 


Alexandru, D. M.D., So, W. M.D. Evaluation and Management of Vertebral Compression Fractures Perm J. 2012 Fall; 16(4): 46–51.

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